- Touch and Go, and: Always the Entertainer, and: Desert Odyssey, and: Rinsing That Tomato, and: Radio Control
Touch and Go
Gone to pick up two dozen hot from the deep fat chocolate frosted, custard, coconut, cake
and his favorite, raised and glazed, he pays cash, swoops up the box each sweet straight and level gliding under the lid’s window.
Take offs and landings . . . he makes room on the seat, moving aside the body he’s built, Styrofoam,
engine embedded, taped, wings detached. At the four-way stop, his head spirals, stress cracks, splits.
Nose down breaks the stalland you’ll fly again … He guns it while he can see, flies low
by trailers, saguaro, his last turn home, eases down so smooth he and the plane are one—
fuel off, flying as long as … he scans for his spot, swallows [End Page 32] two tablets he’s heard can help when blood’s not
getting where it needs to go and blood rushes free, floods all emergency
landing strips, old dirt roads, dry fields, any flat patch where he might put down.
Always the Entertainer
Flat on his back in emergency, he tries to get me to laugh. He’s breathing sporadically, he’s clammy.
“He’s very sick,” the er doc tells me. As if I couldn’t see that for myself. I stroke Dad’s arm, cold
to the touch. He says, “Have you heard the one . . .” and here it comes racist, crass, unfunny
again this joke sick with toe-maine he’s told in some version, knee-monia [End Page 33] all my life dick-theria I’ve cringed.
The most I can muster is a grimace, steady look right in his eyes where I see
he knows how close this call really is. He’s tap dancing for all he’s worth
not sure at all what it is he’s worth.
To the overworked attending he brags on me, grabs onto that swinging vine, aaaah-UH-ah-UH-aaah ~ our tangled jungle.
Like us, Telemachus didn’t know where to start when father didn’t come home.
Face down in a field, his mouth split by stones, he might need us. We spread out, [End Page 34]
hit Tucson Bowl, the Beachcomber, the Maverick, listening for his whiskery line
trolling for barflies, pickled laughter amber waves grain siphoned from bottomless kegs.
Rinsing That Tomato
Sunwarm in my palm, the heft— summer’s first juice-heavy
ripeness snapped from its hairy vine.
On his deathbed my father
needed to hear how proud
I was of him and I couldn’t
wouldn’t shouldn’t didn’t lie. My touch,
gentle, the kind that wouldn’t bruise. [End Page 35]
Two hands, open-palmed, cool
water rinsing away flecks of our ancestors, us,
and soon enough our proud children.
After your friends testified how when they stroked on the pinstripes, chose the call numbers, balanced engine, body, and landing gear
when all that work was ready for the virgin flight, they brought it to you, the new craft, to see what it could do.
They knew you’d ease it up into the air, anticipating rough ground, rough air, compensating
for whatever they hadn’t thought of, whatever wouldn’t show up until wind rushed over the wings [End Page 36]
and the perfect angle of attack lifted it off into the blue for a turn or two over the trailer park above cacti and creosote
slipping on the crosswind easing back to hard-baked earth, and the huge sigh when it touched down, safe
on earth, after that while your daughter choked on words she’d scrawled to honor you, above us all
came the whining hum your craft out of sight wing and roar sailing over.
Peggy Shumaker’s nonfiction book, Just Breathe Normally, is now available from the University of Nebraska Press. Her most recent book of poetry is Blaze, a collaboration with Alaskan painter Kesler Woodward.